• Kansas Bans Poor People from Spending Welfare on Cruise Ships

    October 3, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy


    There is a myth that welfare is a good deal, money for nothing.

    Maybe to some it works that way, but in Kansas a family of three gets a maximum of $429 a money in cash, about $35 bucks a person a week. I don’t know, I guess that is one way to live, but not a way too many people want to live.

    But if you are one of the people who thinks that is still too generous, boy has Kansas got some new laws for you.

    Haters Gonna Hate Once Elected

    Kansas welfare recipients will be unable to withdraw more than $25 per day in benefits under a new law sent this week to Governor Sam Brownback by the state legislature. Like most states, Kansas distributes benefits via a debit card that you can stick into any ATM.

    The bill also prohibits welfare recipients from spending their benefits at certain types of businesses, including liquor stores, fortune tellers, swimming pools and cruise ships.

    “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” one state representative said. “This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

    Under the new rule, a family receiving the maximum benefit would have to go to the ATM more than a dozen times to get the full benefit, which would be whittled away by an 85 cent fee for each withdrawal after the first one. And since many recipients do not have bank accounts, they will pay an ATM fee on top of that for each withdrawal. If you figure $3 (+.85) a transaction, times 12 pulls, that’s about $46 a month, a de facto reduction of benefits of more than ten percent for no real reason whatsoever.

    The federal welfare reform law of 1996 gave states significant leeway to design their own programs. Missouri, for example, is considering a bill to forbid food stamps from being spent on steak or seafood. No more cheap fish heads for you! But even welfare advocates were taken aback by the $25 daily limit in Kansas, something that has not been implemented in any other state.

    “This provision makes it nearly impossible for a recipient who does not have a checking account to pay rent,” said Liz Schott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Kansas provision originally would have limited daily benefits to $60, but that was reduced through an amendment.

    The Questions

    We’re left with some questions.

    I’m pretty sure no one thinks it would be right for welfare recipients to spend benefits designed to feed hungry people at liquor stores, fortune tellers, swimming pools or cruise ships. One wonders, however, at the codification of that into law. Do the Kansas benefit cards even know they are in an ATM on the Love Boat versus one at the grocery store? Is there in fact even one case of a welfare receipt spending his money on a cruise? At a maximum of $429 a month, it seems hard to save up the thousands of dollars cruises cost, especially given the airfare from Kansas to the nearest ocean. And since you can withdraw cash and then spend it on booze or fortune telling if you really want to, isn’t the whole thing pointless?

    The $25 daily limit is also a bit unclear. That amount of money doesn’t get you very far at the grocery store, so it translates into little more than multiple trips each week plus the costs of ATM fees. That alone is at variance with trying to find or work a job, and child care. It does not seem to benefit anyone.

    So what is the point? Well, politics for sure. Nothing says Republican in Kansas apparently like being needlessly mean to poor people. A lot of votes in that hater demographic. Right along side that is the idea that poor people deserve to suffer somehow.

    So, Kansas, why not go for it? Why not just have welfare recipients publicly have to beg for money? Maybe something on TV, like American Idol, where the best beggar as voted on by the home audience gets an extra jar of peanut butter, or, as a special reward, a quick trip to the fortune teller?

    “The magic cards tell me your future looks… very bleak…”

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  • America’s Response to the Middle East Refugee Crisis? Buried in Empty Rhetoric

    October 2, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Libya, Syria

    As the Middle East refugee crisis enters its fifth year, a single image of a child dead on a beach serves as its symbol. Yep, we’re gonna look at that kid again.

    But why is it that those that create refugees are the least likely to help them? The answer lies in empty rhetoric from those who begin America’s wars in the region under the guise of humanitarian intervention itself.

    A searing image of a refugee child lying dead on a beach finally alerted the world to a crisis now entering its fifth year. Awareness is never bad, but here it too easily bypasses the question of where all the refugees come from, in favor of a simpler meme. One is reminded of Malala, one story that pushes aside millions.

    Such narratives bait a familiar trap: the need to “do something.” That “something” in the Middle East is often the clumsy hand of military intervention under the thin cover of humanitarian rhetoric. Cries answered that way have a terrible history of exacerbating a problem they ostensibly set out to solve.

    The scope of the problem is staggering. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there are more than three million Syrian refugees in the Middle East. Inside Syria itself, over 17 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including those internally displaced. Only 350,000 Syrians are estimated to have traveled to Europe. They are the ones you see on television.

    In Iraq, some 1.8 million people were displaced between January and September 2014, a declared United Nations emergency, and Iraqis are currently the second-largest refugee group in the world. Yet even now the New York Times speaks of a “new wave” of Iraqi refugees, driven in part by “years of violence and unmet promises for democracy by a corrupt political elite.”

    The situation in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere is much the same.

    There is a common denominator behind all of these refugee flows: they are, in whole or in part, the product of American “humanitarian interventions.”

    In 2003, President George W. Bush declared the goals of the United States in invading Iraq included freeing its people. In case that was not clear enough, in 2007 Bush proclaimed the American military the “greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known.” Yet by 2007 the number of displaced persons in Iraq had grown by some 50%.

    President Barack Obama used similar rhetoric in 2014, when he revived the United States’ war in Iraq in response to a “humanitarian crisis that could turn into a genocide” for the Yazidi people. “One Iraqi cried that there is no one coming to help,” President Obama said at the time. “Well, today America is coming to help.” A senior administration official went on to explicitly describe the action as a humanitarian effort.

    Some 5,000 airstrikes later, that humanitarian effort is now a bloody war with Islamic State, metastasized across multiple nations, exacerbating the refugee flow. For the Yazidis, long-forgotten by Americans as the no longer needed casus belli, the war enveloped them in Islamic State’s slave trade.

    The conflict in Syria remains connected to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, in the form of militarized Sunnis, the elimination of any effective border between Iraq and Syria and, of course, Islamic State, birthed in the Iraqi sectarian conflict. American intervention in Syria ratcheted up seemingly on a schedule, all around the theme of saving the Syrian people from their dictator, Bashar al-Assad (similarities to George W. Bush’s 2003 wording in reference to Saddam Hussein are noted.)

    After it appeared Assad used chemical weapons in 2013, it was American Secretary of State John Kerry who insisted that it was “not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter.” Airstrikes were forestalled for a time, then popped up in 2014 aimed not at Assad, but at Islamic State. Chaos has gone on to drawn numerous foreign powers into the conflict.

    With Libya in 2011, there was again a “humanitarian effort,” lead by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton sold intervention as a necessity: “Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun, a city of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered, hundreds of thousands had fled. The cries would be, ‘Why did the United States not do anything?’” That “doing something” helped push Libya into failed state status, feeding the refugee flow and bleeding conflict into neighboring countries.

    It is foolish to claim the United States alone “caused” all of these refugee flows; multiple factors, including the aggressiveness of Islamic State, are in play. But it would be equally foolish to ignore American culpability, directly in Iraq and in Libya, and via arms flows and the fanning of flames, in Syria and Yemen. The common element is a stated intent to make things better. The common result is the opposite.

    To many, particularly outside the United States, political rhetoric is just the aural garbage of imperialism. But inside the United States, military “humanitarian” intervention generally enjoys robust support. It may look like a shoddy product to some, but people continue to buy it, and thus it continues to happen. Politicians seem to know how to feed the public’s demands to “do something” triggered by an emotional photograph for their own purposes.

    There exists an inverse relationship between those that create refugees and those who help them. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees referred 15,000 Syrians to Washington for resettlement over the last four years; the United States accepted only 1,500, citing, among other issues, concerns over terrorists hiding among the groups.

    But that was then, pre-photo.

    Post-photo, with no apparent irony, United States Senator Patrick Leahy stated the refugee crisis “warrants a response commensurate with our nation’s role as a humanitarian leader.” Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is “looking hard at the number” of additional Syrian refugees it might accommodate, given America’s “leadership role with respect to humanitarian issues and particularly refugees.”

    Right on schedule following Kerry’s remarks, President Obama promised, per the New York Times headline, to “Increase Number of Syrian Refugees for U.S. Resettlement to 10,000.” With the problem seemingly solved, albeit only 10,000 out of millions, the plight of the refugees disappeared from America’s front pages.

    Left unsaid was the emptiness of even such non-military humanitarian rhetoric. President Obama did not mention, nor was he asked about, the reality that refugees to the U.S. are processed, not accepted. That processing can take years (the average out of Syria is two years at present), indefinite if enough information on a person’s security background cannot be amassed. If a positive “up” decision cannot be made that a person is “safe,” then the default is indefinite pending status. Such a conundrum has, for example, stymied the applications of many Iraqis and Afghanis who served as translators for the American military and fear for their lives, only to have been left behind.

    There also remain voices calling for another escalation of war in the Middle East to deal with the “root causes” of the refugee crisis, loosely defined for now as Islamic State’s continued existence.

    There is an immediate need to do more to help the refugees moving into Europe, and those still in the Middle East. That, and that alone, should comprise the “do something” part of a solution. Long term, if the primary response is simply more military intervention in the name of humanitarianism, or more empty promises, the answer is best left as “doing less.”

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  • ISIS Planning Nuclear Holocaust, Will Wipe ‘Millions from Face of the Earth’

    October 1, 2015 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Libya, Military, Syria


    Lions and tigers and bears… and now IS will use nuclear weapons to destroy everythings and everybodys. You may all commence panicking now.

    Nuclear Holocaust

    Well, it is official. Islamic State terrorists want to wipe the west off the face of the earth with a nuclear holocaust, according to a journalist who spent ten days with the group while researching a book he is now promoting.

    The terror organization allowed 75-year-old former German legislator Jurgen Todenhofer to embed with the group because he has been a critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East. After ten whole days of deep bonding, IS revealed to the German its secret plans to launch a “nuclear tsunami” against the west and anyone else that opposes their plans for an Islamic caliphate. Todenhofer then wrote up his findings in a book he is pimping called Inside IS – Ten Days In The Islamic State.

    So it’s official.

    So Where Do You Get a Nuke?

    Now, the next questions are: how will IS get a nuclear weapon (or multiple nukes to create a nuclear tsunami), transport those nukes to their targets and then detonate them?

    John Cantlie, a British photojournalist has been held captive for more than two years by IS, knows. Apparently IS is pretty liberal about telling random Westerners their evil plans.

    A story by Cantlie, entitled “The Perfect Storm,” claims IS has billions of dollars in the bank and describes it buying a nuclear bomb “through weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials” in Pakistan. IS will then smuggle the devices out of Pakistan, into Mexico by boat, and bring them undetected into American cities to set them off.

    Oh, and, right: Cantlie is still in IS custody, and the story he may or may not even have written was published in the terror group’s own magazine, Dabiq, so that makes it all credible.

    Nuke, Redux

    The thing is, we have heard this scary story so many times before.

    The first popular versions began circulating in the 1990’s, when the culprits were the old, crumbling Soviet Union. Desperate government officials there were going to sell nukes to the official bad guy of the day, Libya’s Qaddafi.

    That didn’t happen.

    The Bush administration revived the story as an excuse to invade Iraq in 2003 — remember Condoleezza Rice announcing the “smoking gun” was going to be a mushroom cloud over Washington DC?

    That didn’t happen.

    Somewhere in there when North Korea went nuclear they were going to sell nukes to maybe al Qaeda, for hard currency. Pakistan was going to do the same with their “Islamic Bomb.” And sure, Iran, which does not have a bomb, was also going to do it.

    None of that happened. But now IS will do it!!!

    Practical Considerations

    Anyway, so IS picks up a few nukes — somewhere, wherever — and then all they have to do is surreptitiously move nuclear weapons around the world undetected, off-shore them in Mexico, hire trucks and then drive those trucks across the U.S. border undetected (perhaps disguised as bales of marijuana) and place them in cities. Then set them off, maybe with a giant red button. Or maybe they could use the guy who couldn’t even set his own underwear on fire on a plane to do it.

    See, nukes are sort of big, heavy things that have to be properly transported, armed and triggered. It is possible that even before that happens, someone might wonder what is going on at the port, or the trucking depot.

    And note to IS: better hurry. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the world has more to fear from a nuclear-capable Iran than IS terrorists. This kind of nuclear tsunami only really counts if you do it first.

    Should we discard this all as more scary stories? Naw, it is easier to give in to this (repetitious) fear mongering. It worked to scare us many times in the past, so we might as well go along with it this time, too. And what if they are right? Who’ll be the first to laugh at this article following their nuclear destruction, hmmm? Boy, won’t I look stupid.

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  • The United Nations and the History of Failure

    September 30, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Posted in: Embassy/State


    The United Nations General Assembly convenes this week in New York, amid pomp and speeches and traffic congestion. So what?

    So What?

    A staple of those cheesy black and white science fiction movies from the 1950s was the United Nations. An alien threat would arrive, and the solution involved the people of earth working together, delegates in exotic native dress, through the UN.

    But nearly from its founding the reality of the UN was no more real than those rubber-suited alien beings. As the United Nations General Assembly meets this week in New York amid much fanfare, what is the point of the UN?

    There is little point. The UN, at its very best not much more than a forum, has been manipulated and ignored from its founding. Actually, earlier.

    The United Nations

    The UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, grew out of the First World War, ironically known then as “the war to end all wars.” The idea was to prevent future conflict via collective security, disarmament and the settling of international disputes through negotiation. The League gathered little support from the great powers of the day, the U.S. in particular, all of whom sought to instead further their own interests via war, armaments, and by ignoring negotiation. The result was World War II.

    Nonetheless, following WWII, the idea was given another try. The war ended with pretty much only one clear winner, the United States, and it would be through the U.S., buttressed by a Security Council of other semi-major powers, that a forum for world peace and negotiation arose in October 1945. It had a very noble name befitting its grand purpose: the United Nations.

    The First Security Council

    Things started off in a way that would plague the UN for its full life. The very first Security Council saw the U.S. as a permanent member, of course, and then tagged on minor powers but U.S. allies the French and the UK. Germany and Japan were and continue to be left out, mainly because they lost the war. The Russians made it in, based on their contribution to defeating the Nazis. The U.S. did make sure Taiwan, a tiny pro-U.S. island, represented “China,” ignoring the most populous country in Asia, “Red” China. The Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) did not replace Taiwan on the Council until 1971, well after the United States fought it directly in Korea, then as a proxy in Vietnam, and years after the PRC went nuclear.

    The Case Of South Korea

    Speaking of Korea, the fallacy of the United Nations found an early home there. Following the Japanese surrender that ended WWII, the United States left the Imperial Army in place for some time, pseudo-occupying the former colony while details could be worked out. The Koreans themselves tried then to build a peninsula-wide government under Lyuh Woon-Hyung. He was soon forced off stage by the United States, which worried about his leftist leanings. An initiative to hold general elections was proposed in the United Nations in 1947, only to be shot down by the United States and the Soviet Union, both angling for power.

    Korean puppet governments were set up by both sides, but when war broke out in 1950, it was the South, backed by the United States, that the UN sided with. Legend holds that the only reason this happened was that the Soviets were boycotting the Security Council the day a vote was taken, though any serious review suggests the UN would have been brought around sooner or later, or, that it would not have mattered and the United States would have just fought alone. Nonetheless, the American troop presence in Korea over the next 65 years and its support for a long series of military coups that dislodged multiple civilian governments, is maintained under the paper-thin mandate of the UN.

    Adding insult to UN injury, and despite enjoying one of the world’s most heavily-armed borders, neither North nor South Korea was allowed into the UN until 1991. Since then, North Korea has not been seated as a temporary member of the Security Council, though South Korea has done it twice, held the General Assembly presidency and of course the current Secretary General of the UN is Ban Ki Moon, a former South Korean diplomat.

    The UN, Downhill

    With the failure of the UN to stop war in Korea, things pretty much slide downhill. Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe, American military actions in Southeast Asia, alongside CIA-backed coups and Russian hijinks, all went on without much joy out of the United Nations. The French pounded away as they wished in North Africa, and the many wars in the Middle East, centered on Israel, all stumbled forward. During what many feel was the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the UN served as a forum for gassy history-making speeches, and some behind-the-scenes negotiations, but little more.

    When the U.S. wanted a coalition to invade Iraq in 1991, it cooperated with the UN to get one. When the U.S. could care less, as in 2003, it bypassed the UN. Indeed, the low point for the United States and the UN came in 2003, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell enthusiastically and falsely made the case that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and could only be disarmed via a massive American invasion.

    This was seen by many as a slap in the face to the efforts of the United Nations to maintain peace; in November 2002, the UN Security Council had adopted Resolution 1441, giving Iraq an ultimatum to co-operate in disarmament within an open-ended (i.e., diplomatically flexible) time frame. UN inspectors could find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, in March 2003, the U.S. launched military operations against Iraq.

    The United Nations of Manipulations

    To be fair, the UN has had some success as a peacekeeper in brushfire wars the major powers had no interest in, or wanted a quick way out of, and the UN charities and aid organizations do good around the world. But that really isn’t much on the plus side given the minuses.

    Like the League of Nations before it, the UN serves as little more than a stage for the great powers to manipulate when that fits their purposes, and to ignore otherwise as they pursue their own aims by force. Resolutions pass in the General Assembly only to be stymied as needed in the Security Council (notably in attempts to contain Israeli aggressive war; in 2009, the U.S. cowardly abstained from Security Council Resolution 1860, which called for a halt to Israel’s brutual military response to Hamas rocket attacks, and the opening of the border crossings into Gaza.)

    Once a year, as they are doing this week, the General Assembly serves as a place where some of America’s opponents (in a long line, from Iran to Cuba to Venezuela to the Palestinians and onward) get a chance to stand up on American TV and denounce things soon forgotten. The American president will say nice things about world peace. Then everyone goes home and forgets all about it all for another twelve months.

    Perhaps one day, when beings from another planet really do arrive to threaten earth, the UN may get its chance to shine brighter. But not now.

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  • Take a Valium, Lose Your Kid, Go to Jail

    September 29, 2015 // 12 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America


    Do we need another example of over-zealous law enforcement and government bullies gone wild? Yes, yes we do.

    An Alabama woman had her child taken away from her, and scored jail time, because she took a valium while pregnant.

    The ridiculous case begins inside the state’s massive meth epidemic. In 2006, Alabama passed a “chemical endangerment of a child” statute, the country’s toughest criminal law on prenatal drug use. The law targeted parents who turned their kitchens drug labs, putting their children at peril. No problem with that, book ’em.

    But within months, prosecutors and courts began applying the law to women who exposed their fetus to controlled substances in utero (the state holds that life begins at conception you see.) A woman can be charged with chemical endangerment from the earliest weeks of pregnancy, even if her baby is born perfectly healthy. The penalties are exceptional: one to 10 years in prison if her baby suffers no ill effects (!), 10 to 20 years if her baby shows signs of exposure or harm and 10 to 99 years if her baby dies.

    Note the term “controlled substance.” Women can still booze it up and smoke all the tobacco they want, even though both drugs have been long-proven dangerous to a fetus.

    Casey Shehi’s son (both pictured) was born fully healthy in August 2014. But the maternity nurse at the hospital took the baby from his mother’s also immediately. Casey had tested positive for benzodiazepines, the chemical found in valium and other “downers,” under Alabama’s mandatory drug screening for all women who give birth in the state.

    The baby was taken away until a urine test on him could be done. It turned up clean, and he was returned to his mother. Casey admitted to taking one of her boyfriend’s valium when she couldn’t sleep. He had a prescription for the medicine, she did not.

    A social worker then visited Casey at home. Alabama authorities have been aggressive about removing newborns from the custody of mothers who abuse drugs, typically placing a baby with a relative or foster family under a safety plan that can continue for months or years. The social worker concluded that this wasn’t one of those situations.

    Then one morning a few weeks later, when Casey was back at her job and the baby was in a daycare facility, investigators from the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office showed up with a warrant. They charged Casey with “knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally” causing her baby to be exposed to controlled substances in the womb. She was handcuffed right at work and taken to jail. After the arrest, the judge issued an emergency order granting her ex-husband sole custody. There wasn’t even a hearing.

    Casey Shehi is one of at least 31 women arrested in Etowah County since 2013 for this same offense. Some 479 new and expecting mothers have been so prosecuted across Alabama since 2006.

    The arrest left Shehi deep in debt. Between her $10,000 bond and lawyers for the chemical endangerment charge and custody case, there were a lot of bills. Every couple of weeks, she had to take a drug test at $75 a pop. And after all this and a lengthy court process, all charges against Casey were dropped and she regained custody.

    So, justice.

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  • What the Pope Almost Said

    September 28, 2015 // 1 Comment

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Economy, Minimum Wage

    In my last book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent two characters are talking, Earl, the main guy, and his friend, Preacher Casey.

    What Casey said is pretty close to a lot of the things the Pope tried to say while he was in the U.S. last week, so I thought it might be worth reading here while the American media focuses ever-so-briefly on the plight of our poor, and the economy that made them that way.

    We understood that getting along meant you could only be so selfish, that only watching out for yourself just would not work in a place where we had to live together. Sermon on the Mount said all that Casey told me, but we did it on our own in a practical way. I guess you can make a life outta not getting along if you only read one book, hating on certain people because one page of the Bible says to, while ignoring the rest of what it says, which is pretty goddamn clear about love.

    Casey was still laughing on the bus when I remembered telling him that.

    Casey and me ended up talking a lot as we became friends. Casey read a lot of books. He seemed to understand things that had happened around me and my life in a way that made it clear that Reeve was not an island like we thought it was. In fact, what had happened to us here had happened to a lot of places. A “hollowing out,” Casey said, in a kind of sermon of his own:

    “Earl, money isn’t spread around like it used to be. After the war, until about the time you were in junior high school, incomes rose at the same level for everyone. But then things changed—you saw it, your mom and dad for sure. The top one percent of Americans watched their income grow dozens of times more than the rest of us, until that same small group of people held forty percent of all the
    wealth in the U.S.”

    “Look at Detroit,” Casey went on, “my old hometown. The U.S. emerged from the Second World War with Heaven’s only functioning army, with more than half of the industrial capacity in the world and as banker and creditor to allies and enemies. That was the highest hill our country climbed, and Detroit sat at the summit. Detroit was looking into a future where the rising prosperity was going to fuel a demand for cars unlike any consumer demand in human history. There was so much money and growth and potential that everyone ate well.

    “When it rains like that, people can’t help but get wet. My own father started as a toolmaker’s apprentice right after high school and ended up making $35 an hour, with a pension, health care, employee discounts on the cars he helped build and a union picnic every Fourth of July.”

    “Detroit rode that all up until about 1973, when everything went over the hill, not just in Detroit, but most everywhere — wages fell, benefits fell, production fell, population fell, home values fell. You can buy a house in Detroit for $6,000 today. Greatest generation and all, no, they were the greatest exception. It all happened quickly, in only the course of a few decades, two or three generations. My dad got out okay, but my older brother didn’t. He told me he felt thrown away, that he never thought this was so fragile. I hate to say it so crudely — God forgive me — but America lost its balls.”

    “C’mon Casey,” I said, “that’s what business does, even I know that. It’s their job to make as much money as they can for them, not for us. A dog can’t help being a dog, so you don’t kick at him for peeing on a tree, right?”

    “Earl, I’m not talking about anything radical here. I’m talking about a little bit of a balance. Those fights between your mom and dad over money you told me about, they were real. They were talking to each other about what was happening in America, all around them, without even knowing it. A very few people were choosing for them. Business became all appetite.

    Now we are reaching for a zero-sum point where wealthy people believe that to gain anything requires them to take it from someone else. Wal-Mart already makes billions, but it fights even tiny increases to the minimum wage. If McDonald’s doubled its employees’ salaries to $14.50 an hour, a Big Mac would cost only 68 cents more.

    “Actually, even all this talk about minimum wage is missing a big point: more Americans work for sub-minimum than for minimum wage. People who might get tips only have to be paid $2.13 an hour in some places. And that $2.13 has not changed by law in twenty-two years due to lobbying by the restaurant business. Owners are doing okay, as restaurant prices have gone up in the last twenty-two years. Just like in Roman times, the lion’s share beats the Christians’ share any day.”

    “This is where my religious and political views meet up, Earl. Most wealthy folks say they’re religious people, but when the churches are rich and the regular people poor, you gotta wonder who is serving who. Most of those wealthy ignore one of the highest ideals from the Sermon — caring. Those words aren’t just some more poetry of hopefulness that passes for Christianity. He said quite clearly, ‘they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they should be satisfied.’ But it ain’t just about handing over a few crumbs, saying it’s better than no bread at all.

    “Getting into Heaven isn’t about earning merit badges, here’s one for those canned goods you didn’t want anyway at Christmas or another for tossing change into a cup. It’s about how you live a life in total, what you do 99 percent of the time, what you make of the world you live in. It isn’t religion that’s wrong, same as it isn’t business that’s wrong. It’s greed and selfishness that’s wrong, no matter what channel you’re watching.”

    I always thought the Bible was like the dictionary, all the words was inside and you could scramble them around to mean anything you like, but Casey made sense.

    “Look Earl, even though the original Owner was barefooted, what happens upstairs in my church is that as soon as some expensive shoes hit that floor it seems like the place loses its purpose. Me, I preached for the Lord a long time, but some days I think God’s the laziest man on earth. What I want is to be able to look out over my congregation and say to them forget most of what I’ve said but go out and be kind to each other, help each other and walk humbly when you have something others still need. When they hear someone cry in America because they’re hungry, I want that to be louder in their ears than any sermon.”

    “So okay, Preacher, when’s it going to get better? When are we going to be able to live like our grandparents did?”

    “Earl, nostalgia isn’t history. This is a story about change, and it’s important for you to know how that happened. Here we are forty years on still talking about recovery like it was as real as an election year promise. Prosperity is not something that will follow if we simply wait long enough. Like my friend says, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you: America used to be a developing nation, in the best sense of that word.

    “Almost in spite of themselves, the robber barons built prosperity through jobs. We had to get past the horrors of enslaving other human beings, past making children work in factories, past killing men in mines and machines. There were dark times, criminal times, but people had a sense of ‘we’ll get past this.’ Then we crossed a line. Manufacturing in America became expensive. Businesses sought lower costs and higher profits. String
    that out as far as it goes and it means paying workers as close to zero—or zero if you somehow could like with slavery — and pulling in as much profit — as close to one hundred percent — as you somehow could. The question seemed to have become, ‘How many miles can you drive on a gallon of our blood?’

    “We watched a reversal of two hundred years. American workers never earned as much again as they did in 1973. It was soon after that someone laid off a steelworker who became Patient Zero of the new economy.”

    “The numbers are too consistent, the lines too straight. This was no accident, no invisible hand. Earl, we changed from a place that made things —radiators, cash registers, gaskets, ball bearings, TVs — into a place that just makes deals. Making things creates jobs, and jobs create prosperity. Making deals just creates wealth for the dealers. It’s math. The money that went up had to come from somewhere. That was right out of your father’s pocket.

    “The deal makers don’t care because they don’t live here, hell, they don’t live anywhere. We live here.”

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  • A Day in America

    September 26, 2015 // 9 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America


    The Pope and the United Nations General Assembly were in New York on Friday.

    The entire metro area was thus designated by the Department of Homeland Security a “National Special Security Event (NSSE),” which offers law enforcement all sorts of semi-unConstitutional powers, for freedom.

    Under an NSSE, the local authorities give up their lawful jurisdiction, as an NSSE puts the United States Secret Service in charge of event security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation in charge of intelligence, counter terrorism, hostage rescue and investigation of incidents of terrorism or other major criminal activities associated with the NSSE, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of recovery management in the aftermath of terrorist incident.

    In other words, the Feds control your world. The practical result is a city put on lockdown, with streets closed and massive police presence.

    Apparently some motorcade or another was scheduled to pass through my boring, residential neighborhood, and there were cops everywhere. Here’s what a day in America now sounds like:

    COP: (semi-blocking sidewalk) Where you headed, sir?

    ME: To the bus. May I go?

    COP: Just wondering where you’re headed.

    ME: To the bus. Am I free to leave?

    COP: Do you have ID with you, sir?

    ME: Yes.

    (Silence. In New York, the police can only demand ID with probable cause, though they can ask for it anytime. I’m an older white male and so felt I might get away with not showing it “voluntarily,” and without a beating.)

    COP: You have a nice day, sir.

    If the cop had demanded my ID instead of letting me lawfully be on my way, I would have had the choice of standing my Constitutional ground, or likely spending a few hours in jail on some trumped up excuse, to teach me a lesson. Yep, freedom ain’t free. I was sweating balls.

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  • The Harsh Lessons of History: Faux Reports of Progress Against IS

    September 25, 2015 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria


    (This article, written by me, originally appeared on Middle East Eye)

    Allegations that American military analysts may have “cooked the books” to skew intelligence assessments about the campaign against Islamic State (IS), providing a more optimistic account of progress, are a sign of bad things to come.

    Bad intel leads to bad decisions. Bad intel created purposefully suggests a war that is being lost, with the people in charge that loathe to admit it even as they continue to stumble forward, ever-more blind. And if that sounds like America’s previous war in Iraq, or its earlier one in Vietnam, you are not wrong.

    A Pentagon Inspector General’s investigation into allegations of overly optimistic intelligence reporting, first reported in the New York Times, began after at least one Defence Intelligence Agency analyst claimed officials overseeing the war against Islamic State were improperly reworking the assessments prepared for senior policy makers. The focus is on whether military officials changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.

    Intelligence typically involves working with incomplete data (one analyst likens the process to turning over a small subset of rocks in a large field) to assess the present situation and then to predict the future.

    Anyone who claims to be certain about the future is more likely to be a fortune teller than a professional analyst, and so it is quite reasonable and common for a group of honest, well-meaning people to assess a data set and come to different conclusions. To be of value, however, legitimate differences of opinion must be played off one another in a non-politicised, intellectually vigorous check-and-balance fashion, as enshrined in Intelligence Community Directive 203.

    There is a wide gap between that, and what it appears the inspector general is now looking into.

    We can assume, arguendo, the inspector general knows a legitimate difference of opinion when he sees one, can easily rule out a sloppy supervisor, or spot a mid-level official rewriting things to pump up his own credentials. Investigations of the level leaked to the New York Times are not needed to deal with such situations. What appears to be under the microscope is whether or not the intelligence assessments headed to senior policy makers are purposely inaccurate.

    Cooking the intel has a sordid history in the annals of American warfare.

    Former CIA analyst Paul Pillar described the process in a postmortem on the 2003 Iraq intelligence failures, noting “Intelligence analysts and their managers knew that the United States was heading for war with Iraq. It was clear that the Bush administration would frown on or ignore analysis that called into question a decision to go to war and welcome analysis that supported such a decision.”

    Those factors led directly to the flawed if not outright fraudulent 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) supporting the narrative of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The NIE was used by the White House to press Congress into supporting war, and by Colin Powell to do the same at the United Nations. The so-called Downing Street Memo bluntly stated “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.

    Analysis during the Vietnam War also pushed forward a steady but false narrative of victory. Former CIA and US Army analyst Patrick Eddington notes analysts’ conclusions that the US would be unlikely to ever defeat North Vietnamese forces were repeatedly overruled by commanders certain the United States was winning. He cites a complex inter-agency process of manipulating data to match the needs of General William Westmoreland’s narrative that enemy morale and military structure were deteriorating.

    The CIA’s Paul Pillar again, stresses the difficulties of dissent, and speaking of truth to power: “You’re part of a large structure that does have a vested interest in portraying the overall mission as going well.” Compare that to what any journalist, graduate student or successful businessperson should be able to tell you, that information must drive conclusions, not the inverse. The more complex the problem, the higher the quality of information needed to successfully solve it.

    The situation with Islamic State is more complex than that faced by the United States in Iraq over a decade ago, or in Vietnam before that. IS is a trans-state, loosely-organised fighting force, whose defeat requires the United States to stitch together a collection of strange bedfellows, each with their own agendas, in hopes the sum will add up to victory.

    The Iranians support Iraq’s Shiite militias against IS, but not Iraq’s Sunni forces. Turkey is prepared to wage war only in equal dollops against America’s opponents IS, and America’s allies the Kurds. The Kurds themselves fight well in their own territories but are loathe to strike elsewhere in Iraq. Creating a unified strategy out of all that demands hard, objective reporting and courageous analysis.

    There are three positions on why the military might not be providing that courageous analysis, and instead substituting a more positive spin on events.

    The first is basic bureaucratic cover – saying things are going well is a neat way of telling the boss that the military is doing the job they were sent to do, a self-administered pat on the back. Such thinking should never be easily discarded. However, higher-ups in the military chain of command will eventually look askance at such tactics, fearful of blow-back if events on the battlefield turn sour.

    The second is of more concern. Imagine a scenario where the president is rejecting advice from his generals to continue the war against IS, and wants to tamp down the level of American involvement (as some say Kennedy wished to do in Vietnam before his assassination). The president pushes back, saying nothing has worked, that ongoing failure comes at great cost. A military that wishes to stay engaged, again, as in Vietnam, might want to create the appearance that current levels of involvement are good, and thus increased involvement will be even better.

    But it is the third position, reporting only the good news senior policy makers signal they want to hear, that history suggests is the dominant reason.

    If American military intelligence insists on pushing false narratives of progress up the chain of command, that strongly suggests someone higher up, afraid of the ground truth, is happy to receive only the palliative of good news. And that is bad news. The lessons of modern history make clear that misleading policy makers who themselves seek to be misled can only yield disastrous consequences.

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  • Schools Employ Warzone Tech Ahead of Next Mass Shooting

    September 24, 2015 // 2 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America


    So here we are America. Schools are now using some of the same tech deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in some of America’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods, to protect their students against the inevitable next mass shooting. #Pride

    Even more sad, the new devices show we have given up on preventing mass shootings, and are now simply looking for ways to minimize the carnage when they do happen.

    The devices now being installed in a growing number of schools are acoustic sensors (pictured) which listen for the sound of gunfire, and are then able to pinpoint its location and alert authorities.

    Such tools are common on the battlefield and alert soldiers from which direction they are taking incoming fire. The sensors are very good; in urban combat environments, echoes off buildings can confuse a response. The sensors use sophisticated technology to sift out the echoes, and can even estimate range. Some can even make educated guesses on what kind of weapon is being used, based on the sound of the incoming rounds. Cities such as New York also have such sensors installed on streets prone to gun violence.

    Back in the Homeland, there’s even an app. If gunfire is detected on campus, the school principal and local law enforcement get an “active shooter alert” sent to their desktop computers and cellphones with precise details about where the shooting occurred in the building. The senors, according to one manufacturer, also integrate with auto-lockdown technologies (that company’s toll-free number is 1-844-SHOT911.)

    Interest in these systems appears to be growing, seeded by the companies that make the devices, and driven by school administrators grappling with how to keep students safe. Inquiries also spike after each school shooting as Americans love them some overreaction.

    And in an America that increasingly relies on the search for new products to peddle, the sensors are also good business. The gunshot-detection systems can cost $10,000 to $100,000 depending on the size of a school.

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  • Terror Arrest After Watching ‘Breaking Bad’

    September 23, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America


    A British software programmer has been sentenced to eight years in prison for trying to buy the deadly toxin ricin (from the FBI) over the Internet.

    Mohammed Ali was convicted of attempting to possess a chemical weapon. He admitted trying to buy ricin, but claimed he was motivated by curiosity after it featured on the TV show “Breaking Bad.”

    He told jurors he was just “curious” and wanted to test the boundaries of the Dark Web, and was unaware ricin was illegal. “I just wanted to know what the fuss was about,” he said.

    Computer analysis showed Ali first began trawling the Internet for information on poisons such as abrin, ricin and cyanide in October last year.
    The court heard he approached the undercover agent in January with a private message, saying: “Hi, would you be able to make me some ricin and send it to the UK?”

    Because sure, that’s exactly how one goes about these things, so hey, I need some plutonium, please leave your full name and address in the Comments so me and SWAT can swing by later.

    At one point, Ali asked his FBI handler: “How do I test this ricin?” and received the instruction: “You must test it on a rodent.”

    Records showed that Ali then made a to-do list on his computer which included the entries “pay ricin guy” and “get pet to murder.” He had also made a series of web searches for chinchillas, animal rescue center, rabbits and “pocket-sized pets.”

    Ali has been diagnosed with Asperger’s or autistic traits.

    Ali, who is 31, contacted a “U.S. seller” about buying 500 milligrams of ricin for $500. Of course, the contact was just another undercover FBI agent pretending to be a terrorist, and Ali was arrested after he was sent a toy car (below) containing a harmless powder. One wonders if it is 99 percent or 99.9 percent of the FBI that now spends its time pretending to be terrorists online.

    A judge said Ali’s sentence was intended to send a message “that the possession of a chemical weapon is extremely serious.” And indeed possession is a serious thing. Only this guy never possessed anything dangerous, and had no chance of actually possessing anything dangerous. He was just another ignorant web dweller who imagined he could pop online and buy highly toxic substances.

    Protip: Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans. In other words, you don’t have to buy it, you can brew it, and yes, instructions are online. If the guy really, really wanted to cause mass harm, he was a quick Google and a trip to the supermarket away from getting started. And as far as anyone knows, the FBI is not yet staffing the bean aisle at your local Safeway.

    Or are they…

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  • Trump Personally Re-Arrests Muslim Clock Kid (Satire)

    September 22, 2015 // 9 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: 2016, Other Ideas


    Last week was a notable one in terms what’s left of our political process.

    Texas stormtroopers saved everyone by arresting a ninth grade brown science nerd for building a clock that they wanted sooooo badly to be a bomb, followed by Obama inviting the kid to the White House to promote science (the Pentagon needs many bomb makers ahead of future wars with Muslims), followed by Donald Trump remaining silent in the face of one of his supporters announcing that Obama is a foreigner and a Muslim and that secret jihadi training camps no one can see are scattered all over America.

    (That was all sadly true; here’s the satire part.)

    CNN and other entertainment outlets all headlined a story earlier today showing Trump has personally flown to Texas and re-arrested the science nerd bomb making Muslim kid, charging him with not being fabulous, and with conspiring to make others think for no reason that he was thinking of considering creating a weapon of mass destruction that never would exist. Such a crime exists in the imagination of Trump, who stated “That was good enough for Ronald Reagan, and good enough for the Greatest Generation, so it is good enough for someone else.”

    “The key reason I knew I had to act,” said Trump from his hot tub attended to by scores of virgins, “was that visit to the White House. In these kinds of Islamic terror plots, you look to connect the dots. So look what we have — a Muslim builds the first half of a bomb, minus only massive amounts of explosives and a trigger. He escapes from law enforcement because of the liberal mass media. And then he just happens to show up the next day at the home of a prominent Muslim, and that home just happens to be right inside Washington DC, inside the White House itself!”

    “It was all red flags, red alarms and red scares as far as the eye could see,” frothed Trump. “So I acted. Any other paranoid raving lunatic would have done the same.”

    “And lastly, answer me this. Where was Hillary? Hmmm?”

    When reached for comment in Paradise, the ghost of Osama bin Laden chuckled to himself, and mumbled “The Americans, they are eating themselves now, my work here is done.”

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  • Using First Amendment to Defend the Second Amendment

    September 21, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Post-Constitution America

    Cody Wilson, who created computer code that will allow someone to 3-D print a handgun, is trying now to use the First Amendment’s right to free speech to assure his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

    And he has to sue to the U.S. Department of State to do it.

    A Plastic Gun

    3-D printing allows the use of plastics and some metals to create three dimensional objects, using an off-the-shelf “printing device” and computer code. You can create the code yourself if you are smart like Cody, or you can buy and download the code from a smart guy like Cody if you are not as smart. The printer takes that code and builds up the object, layer-by-layer (watch it work.) The tech is amazing, and is even being used now on the International Space Station to fabricate spare parts on demand.

    Two years ago Cody posted online what is believed to be the world’s first computer code to create a 3-D printable gun. Wilson’s files for what he called the Liberator, a single-shot pistol, were partly a statement about freedom in the digital age and partly an assertion of his Second Amendment rights.

    Enter the State Department

    A few days after the plans for the Liberator were put online, the State Department ordered Wilson to remove them, threatening him with jail and fines for breaking rules on the export of military data.

    State informed him that by posting his files online he may have violated a complicated set of federal regs, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which seek to prevent the export of sensitive military technology. The regulations are pretty heavy stuff, aimed at stopping the export of classified military hardware, weapons of mass destruction, that sort of thing.

    It is unclear that the intent of the regulations was something to do with 3-D printing of a single shot handgun. It appears that, in panic, the Federal government looked through its books for a way to stop people like Cody, and could not come up with anything else without violating the Second Amendment. Hence, the call to the State Department to step in as pseudo-law enforcement.

    Note also that no terrorists have been stopped. Wilson removed the code from the web as ordered, but not before it was downloaded 100,000 times. It thus exists forever in cyberspace. And while Wilson is no doubt a clever lad, he is not the first/last/only person to know how to program a 3-D printer.

    Wilson Fights Back

    Wilson’s first move against State was to spend two years and thousands of dollars on lawyers to him file paperwork to comply with the ITAR regulations. State, for its part, took no action on Wilson’s case (Wilson’s attorneys claim State is obligated to issue a ruling in 60 days and just did not.) The State Department also did not respond to Wilson’s queries that it has no authority to regulate his actions inside the United States, where he believes the Second Amendment applied.

    And so Wilson moved to the next step, filing suit via his company in May against the State Department, claiming that its efforts to stop him from publishing his plans amount to a prior restraint on free speech.

    Basically, Wilson is trying to use the First Amendment to protect the Second. Pretty sure that is a first.

    Wilson’s initial response from the judiciary was not warm. In August, a district judge denied a preliminary injunction against the State Department’s order, stating that any potential violations of Wilson’s Constitutional rights did not outweigh the public interest. Wilson filed an appeal to that decision and the case will be next heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.


    Regardless of one’s thoughts on weapons, the issues here are Constitutionally significant, testing the depth of the First Amendment in the face of ever-expanding technologies, as well as the balance between individual rights and public good. The latter test has always been how the courts have judged limits on free speech (“shouting fire in a crowded theatre.”)

    This one has Supreme Court written all over it.

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  • Saudis to Crucify Kid Arrested When He was 17-Years-Old

    September 19, 2015 // 10 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State


    Wow, remember all those horrible things we read about how Islamic State crucifies people? Those barbarians, good thing we are at war with them.

    So it must be OK then that groovey American bestie allies the Saudis are planning to crucify someone, because they had like a trial and everything. And is the victim going to die a most horrible death for child murder? No. For building a WMD to use against innocent people? No. For participating in 9/11 like many other Saudis did? Nope.

    He is going to die on the cross for protesting illegally against the Saudi regime.

    Saudi Arabia dismissed the final appeal of a juvenile prisoner set to be crucified. Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr was arrested when he was only age 17 after participating in anti-government protests in 2012, the hilarious Arab Spring democracy and free love festival the United States turned a blind eye toward in favor of maintaining the status quo of thug dictatorships across the Middle East who sell us oil and buy our weapons, for freedoming. The boy was accused of protesting illegally.

    Ali was initially held at a juvenile offender’s facility which in Saudi must be a hoot, like Spring Break. Oops, no, because human rights reporting indicated that he was tortured and forced to sign a confession under duress. His for sure fully-legal appeal was held in secret and dismissed without comment, with no remaining legal routes of objection to his sentence of “death by crucifixion” remaining.

    Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, said: “No one should have to go through the ordeal Ali has suffered – torture, forced ‘confession’, and an unfair, secret trial process, resulting in a sentence of death by ‘crucifixion.’”

    “But worse still, Ali was a vulnerable child when he was arrested and this ordeal began. His execution – based apparently on the authorities’ dislike for his uncle, and his involvement in anti-government protests – would violate international law and the most basic standards of decency. It must be stopped.”

    The government of the United States has issued no statement. Nobody on Twitter has started a feel-good hashtag campaign.

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  • Questions for Clinton

    September 18, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Questions for Clinton


    I’ll begin today a new series, called “Questions for Clinton,” in which I’ll compile a set of questions Congressional Committees, media and the FBI should ask the former Secretary of State when they have a few free moments before the election.

    The questions will be factual, and non-partisan under normal people’s definitions** of these terms.

    **Normal people excludes anyone who has decided without further thought that there is nothing to see here, that asking questions itself is a partisan attack, and that “everybody does it” is a valid explanation for whatever happens. If you are not willing to examine or re-examine these issues, there is nothing for you to see here. Enjoy being ignorant, you’ve earned it, so click here.

    Today’s Questions

    Madame Secretary, please read the September 1 exchange below, between State Department spokesperson Mark Toner and the media. Here are the questions:

    1) Who at the State Department, highest level, authorized your private email server. You stated it was permitted under State Department rules. Who made that determination and when? Was the determination ever reevaluated during your four years in office? If it is in writing, please produce the document. If it was not in writing, please explain why not.

    2) Was there concern/opposition/protest/raising of issues within the State Department over your use of a private email server? What is the highest level that voiced that concern, and the highest level that received the concerns? How were those questions responded to? Did anyone in the State IT or State Information Security structure know about your server? How and when were they informed, or did they discover it on there own?

    3) A person you placed into a State Department job, Bryan Pagliano, also at the same time administered your private server. Were his bosses’ at State aware of this? What was their reaction? Did they raise any concerns? If they were not informed, why not? As you are aware, State employees are required to report and vett any outside employment. Did he? If not, why not?

    4) In March you stated the private server was simply because you did not wish to carry multiple devices, though obviously you did. You then stated in September the reason there was a private server was because as you took office you were simply too busy with matters of foreign affairs to focus on how email was processed. Which is it? Why have you offered two different explanations separated by six months of additional disclosures?

    5) Your IT administrator from your 2008 presidential campaign was Bryan Pagliano. You had him hired by the State Department after you became Secretary of State, as a GS-15 civil service employee in his job as a special advisor and deputy chief information officer at the State Department. He earned around $140,000 per year from 2010-2012. You also paid him personally, on the side, to continue managing your private server from 2009 to 2013. Pagliano still works at the State Department, albeit now as a private contractor.

    Was the job “special advisor and deputy chief information officer” created for him, or did it exist prior to him filling it? Who were his predecessors and what was their pay rate? Exactly and specifically, what were his duties? What is his contractor job now at State? Do you feel it may create some sort of conflict of interest, given the issues around your use of private email, that Pagliano still has access to the State Department computer networks where information concerning your situation is being processed?

    6) If you do not know the answers, why not? Who will answer these questions for us if you cannot?

    The Press Exchange

    QUESTION: But do you know who signed off on her having a private server?

    MR TONER: Who signed off on her? I don’t, no.

    QUESTION: I mean —

    QUESTION: Did anybody?

    MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to answer that question. I’m not going to litigate that question from the podium.

    QUESTION: So you’re saying that nobody signed off on her having a private server?

    MR TONER: No. I’m saying – look, everyone – there were – people understood that she had a private server. I think we’ve talked about that in the past.

    QUESTION: What level was that knowledge? How high did that go up in this building?

    MR TONER: I mean, you’ve seen from the emails. You have an understanding of people who were communicating with her, at what level they were communicating at, so —

    QUESTION: Was there anybody in this building who was against the Secretary having her own private server?

    MR TONER: I can’t answer that. I can’t.

    QUESTION: And just —

    MR TONER: I mean, I don’t have the history, but I also don’t have – I don’t have the authority to speak definitively to that.

    QUESTION: But —

    MR TONER: Again, these are questions that are appropriate, but appropriate for other processes and reviews.

    QUESTION: But not the State Department? She was the Secretary of State and —

    MR TONER: No, I understand what you’re asking. But frankly, it’s perfectly plausible – and I talked a little bit with Arshad about this yesterday – is for example, we know that the State IG is – at the Secretary’s request – is looking at the processes and how we can do better and improve our processes. And whether they’ll look at these broader questions, that’s a question for them.
    QUESTION: So last opportunity here: You don’t know who signed off on Secretary Clinton having her own server?

    MR TONER: Again, I don’t personally, but I don’t think it’s our – necessarily our responsibility to say that. I think that that’s for other entities to look at.

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  • We Meant Well and Learned Nothing, Afghan Edition

    September 17, 2015 // 13 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, PRT Life

    100118-A-6996A-002 (Small)

    Well, I have a sad today. See, that’s me in the picture, from when I was working in Iraq for the State Department.

    In 2012 I published a book all about how the United States squandered billions of dollars on the reconstruction of Iraq. The main point was that we had no plan on what to do and simply spent money willy-nilly, on stupid things and vanity projects and stuff that made someone’s boss in Washington briefly happy. We had absolutely no plan on how to measure our successes or failures, and then acted surprised when it all turned out to be a steaming pile of sh*t that did little but create the breeding ground for Islamic State.

    The idea of the book was to try and lessen the chance the United States would do exactly, precisely and completely the exact same f*cking thing in Afghanistan.

    Now, I just read a speech given by John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), entitled “Ground Truths: Honestly Assessing Reconstruction in Afghanistan” which says the United States has done exactly, precisely and completely the exact same f*cking thing in Afghanistan.

    And like me, Sopko concludes if we do not learn the lessons from Afghanistan “we will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity that will affect U.S. foreign policy for generations to come.” To which I can only say, “Good Luck” with that John.

    Here’s some more of what Sopko pointed out, all his quotes from the same speech:

    — There is a strong need for evidence-based policymaking, because if you don’t have a means of knowing whether or not your programs are succeeding, the policymaker’s job is that much harder.

    — In a conflict-affected environment such as Afghanistan, the challenge of setting realistic standards is amplified. That said, perhaps constructing buildings to U.S. standards across the board in such an environment might be unwise, especially if we expect the Afghans to maintain and sustain what we give them.

    — If after 13 years and so much blood and treasure invested in Afghanistan, we cannot be honest with ourselves about our successes and failures, we are not only leaving the Afghans in a precarious position, but also putting our entire mission there at risk.

    — Incredibly, for the first nine years of CERP’s existence [an Army funding program for reconstruction], a single, clearly articulated mention of the program’s true objectives could not be found in any official document beyond the generic inputs of “humanitarian relief and reconstruction.”

    — It becomes really difficult for SIGAR to assess reconstruction projects and programs if agencies don’t set clear criteria or project management standards.

    — USAID spent almost $15 million to build a hospital in Gardez, but USAID did not fully assess the Afghan Ministry of Public Health’s ability to operate and maintain the hospital once completed. It seems that time and again, people have to be reminded that Afghanistan is not Kansas.

    — It is hard to give people the benefit of the doubt when we build multi-billion dollar roads to U.S. weight standards in a country that has no ability to enforce weight limitations, or when a military official suggested that we spend millions building high-tech bus stops in Afghanistan, complete with solar-powered lighting. This is not Bethesda.

    — Two and a half years ago, SIGAR sent the Departments of State and Defense, as well as USAID, a letter requesting that they identify, by their own judgement, their ten most and least successful reconstruction programs, and why they selected those programs. We still have not received a straight answer from any of them. A USAID official even said that asking him to identify his agency’s top successes and failures was like asking him to choose which of his children he loved more.

    — Almost fourteen years into our trillion dollar effort, with over 2,000 American lives sacrificed, if we can’t honestly point to some actual, measurable accomplishments from that massive investment, we will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity that will affect U.S. foreign policy for generations to come. In short, we risk failing to understand the conditions necessary not only to produce peace and prosperity, but to sustain them.

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  • Muslim 9th Grader Arrested for Bringing His Electronics Project to School

    September 16, 2015 // 12 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America


    Here’s some more even-tempered policing for you, another dose of freedom that makes us all safer.

    Stare into the face of (made-up) terror America.

    That evil child is Ahmed Mohamed, a brown ninth-grader in Irving, Texas, who likes to tinker with electronics. He built a simple electronic clock and brought it school to show it to his engineering teacher, like any nerd would do.

    The teacher praised the design but advised him not to show it to other teachers. Later, in Ahmed’s English class, the clock beeped while it was in his bag. When he showed the project to his English teacher, who no doubt was a trained bomb detector EOD person, she thought it looked like a bomb. No doubt the teacher had seen many home-made bombs in her career.

    Maybe you know about bombs, so look at the printed circuit board in the picture. Can you see all the explosives wired to it, the plastique and dynamite sticks? Maybe if it looked more like this:

    The teacher kept the clock and called for backup. The principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of class, and detained him, without legal representation or calling his parents, in a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”

    “They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.

    “I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

    “He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

    Police arrested Ahmed and led him out of school in handcuffs. His school gave him a three-day suspension for, well, something, and police are still investigating the incident.

    Lawyers who handle civil suits are welcome to contact the family. People who wonder why everyone thinks we are ass clowns who hate too much, well, there you are.

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  • DHS Pressure Shuts Down First Library to Offer Anonymous TOR Web Browsing

    September 16, 2015 // 2 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    tor logo

    UPDATE: The library again gave in to pressure — the good kind — and reinstated its Tor service. Go to hell, DHS.

    A library in a small New Hampshire town started to help Internet users around the world surf anonymously using Tor. Until the Department of Homeland Security helped shut them down, to protect America, ‘natch.

    New Hampshire is the state whose motto is “Live Free or Die.” Tor is a system that allows someone to browse the web and communicate anonymously.

    Tor is the only means, Edward Snowden tells us, that offers the likelihood that you can not be monitored by the NSA. Using Tor requires a special browser and some software, all free. Tor grants you anonymity by bouncing your browsing around all sorts of computers worldwide, called nodes, to hide it. It can get pretty complex in the real world, but that’s a simple way to understand it.

    So, to help its patrons live free and not die, the tiny Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was the first library in the country to become part of the anonymous Web surfing service Tor. The library allowed Tor users around the world to bounce their Internet traffic through the library as one of those nodes.

    Soon after, “The Department of Homeland Security got in touch with our Police Department,” said Sean Fleming, the library’s director. Then there was a meeting at which local police and city officials discussed how Tor could be exploited by criminals, and the library was pressured to “pause” the project until the board of trustees votes on whether to turn the service back on.

    Used in repressive regimes by dissidents and journalists, Tor is considered a crucial tool for freedom of expression and counts the State Department among its top donors, but only when it is used abroad. In America, Tor is seen as a weapon of terrorists and criminals.

    When the DHS inquiry was brought to his attention, Lt. Matthew Isham of the Lebanon Police Department was concerned. “For all the good that Tor may allow as far as speech, there is also the criminal side that would take advantage of that as well. We felt we needed to make the city aware of it.”

    Deputy City Manager Paula Maville said that when she learned about Tor at the meeting with the police and the librarians, she was concerned about the service’s association with criminal activities such as pornography and drug trafficking. “That is a concern from a public relations perspective and we wanted to get those concerns on the table,” she said.

    Of course DHS cannot say how many, if any, criminals and terrorists are using Tor and for what. And of course saying Tor as a tool can be used by criminals and terrorists is about the same as saying cars can be used by criminals and terrorists — they can! Getaway cars, car bombs, that sort of thing, which suggests maybe cars should also not be allowed in Lebanon, New Hampshire. For freedom!

    And hey, New Hampshire, if you are still serious about that “Live Free or Die” slogan, babies, you are already dead. You just don’t know it yet.

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  • Don’t Believe America About Syrian Refugees

    September 15, 2015 // 8 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Syria

    The world finally noticed that one Syrian refugee kid drowned on a beach, after failing to notice the Middle East refugee crisis has been an ongoing disaster for almost five years now.

    Same for the U.S.; Obama just announced he wants America to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, so this is all fixed now, we can go back to Miley and Katy, right? No.

    The Day Before

    Here was the state of affairs as of the day before Obama’s announcement.

    The United Nations High Commission for Refugees referred 15,000 Syrians to Washington for resettlement over the last four years; the United States accepted 1,500, with formally announced plans to take in only another 1,800 by next year, citing, among other issues, concerns over terrorists hiding among the groups.

    With no apparent irony, United States Senator Patrick Leahy stated the refugee crisis “warrants a response commensurate with our nation’s role as a humanitarian leader.” Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is “looking hard at the number” of additional Syrian refugees it might accommodate, given America’s “leadership role with respect to humanitarian issues and particularly refugees.”

    Many in Washington likely felt that was enough. A token increase, some nice, high-flying language, a little sprinkle of freedom and respect. I think we’re done here.

    The Day After

    But, after seeing that it was a slow week and the media was still showing sad pictures of refugees on the TV box, it seemed more (rhetoric) was needed. So, on September 10, President Obama announced, per the New York Times headline, he will “Increase Number of Syrian Refugees for U.S. Resettlement to 10,000.”

    Well, that’s good, right? I mean, the estimates are that there are some four million Syrian refugees already out there, with another 10 million internally displaced, so even if it is 10,000 that’s hardly anything but still, better than nothing.

    What He Said, What He Meant

    Maybe. But let’s dig down one level deeper.

    To be precise, Obama did not say the U.S. is taking 10,000 Syrian refugees in FY2016. He did not say if the 10k were part of the U.S.’ overall 70k refugee cap, or in addition to it, meaning other refugees could be left behind to favor the flavor-of-the-moment out of Syria. Obama also did not explain that the United States processes refugees abroad (if the person is somehow in the U.S. physically, that’s asylum, different thing, done while the person is in the U.S.)

    Actually, have a look at the exact wording from the White House spokesperson (emphasis added): “The president has… informed his team that he would like them to accept, at least make preparations to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees.”

    Refugees are processed, not accepted. That processing can take years, indefinite if enough information on a person’s security background cannot be amassed; there remains great fear in the U.S. government about terrorists sneaking into refugee flows, and so if a positive “up” decision cannot be made that a person is “safe,” then the default is indefinite pending status. Such a conundrum has, for example, stymied the applications of many Iraqis and Afghanis who served as translators for the American military and fear for their lives, only to have been stuck left behind.

    As Representative Peter King said “Our enemy now is Islamic terrorism, and these people are coming from a country filled with Islamic terrorists. We don’t want another Boston Marathon bombing situation.”

    There are also medical and other checks before a refugee is approved. With all the variables, there is no average processing time, but post-9/11 we can say the average is s-l-o-w. In the world of suffering, slow can often mean death.

    Bottom Line

    It appears the White House is taking full advantage of the media’s ignorance of how refugee processing works to create the appearance of doing something when little of a practical nature is being done, all sizzle and no meat. There is little help coming from the United States for any significant number of Syrian refugees. Sorry guys!

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  • FBI Saved 9/11 Day By Foiling Another Non-Terror Plot Plot

    September 14, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America


    Did you have a nice 9/11 day Friday? Did you know you almost were killed? No, not really, except…

    Whew. America survived another never was going to happen terror plot nearly completely driven by the FBI because the FBI arrested the lone, sad loser they tricked into the plot. See, that’s the sound of freedom. Never Forget, m*therfuckers!

    Here’s what sort of happened: A Florida man faces up to 20 years in federal prison after authorities say he was trying to help plan an attack on an upcoming 9/11 memorial in Missouri. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that 20-year-old Joshua Ryne Goldberg was arrested and charged with distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction.

    A criminal complaint says Goldberg began communicating online with an FBI informer in July and gave that person information on how to build a bomb with a pressure cooker, nails and rat poison. The complaint says Goldberg also instructed the informer to place the bomb at an upcoming memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, that was commemorating the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

    Here’s what really happened: a college kid with a history of internet trolling was talking dumb sh*t online. The Australian intelligence services (i.e., the NSA monitoring Americans from abroad where it is legal, versus from inside the U.S. where it is not) alerted the FBI, who had one of their people make contact with the troll online and ease him forward with the plot. The troll ran a Google search for “how to build a pressure cooker bomb”.

    Boom! That resulted in charges of “distributing information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction.”

    Once again FBI informants have courageously defended us from a plot that probably would never have existed were it not for the involvement of FBI informants. Absolutely nothing to see here. No one was in danger. Nothing was foiled, but at least some of us may have been fooled.

    Happy 9/11 America!

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  • Quoted by the New York Times Sunday Magazine

    September 13, 2015 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Yemen


    Before he was assassinated by a United States government drone under orders from Obama and in contemptuous disregard for the Bill of Rights, Fifth and Sixth Amendments, Anwar al-Awlaki was an American Citizen.

    I have written a fair amount about his death, one small piece of which was picked up by the New York Times Sunday Magazine:

    You can bomb a thing into oblivion, but you cannot blow up an idea. An idea can only be defeated by another, better idea. So killing al-Awlaki had no more chance of truly silencing him than turning off the radio and hoping the broadcast never exists elsewhere. In an environment where martyrdom is prized, America might begin to turn around its failures first by creating fewer martyrs.

    More on al-Awlaki elsewhere on this blog…

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  • Dweeb Hillary Aide Stayed Up 100 Hours to Write a Speech for Her

    September 12, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Posted in: 2016, Embassy/State

    hitler youth

    Good Reason to Stay Awake for 100 hours: something to do with saving a life.

    Bad Reason to Stay Awake for 100 hours: write a speech for Hillary Clinton no one remembers.

    It was that Bad Reason that inspired Clinton aide, Hitler Youth cosplayer, Waylon Smithers-wannabe and all around dweeb Tomicah Tillemann, pictured.

    Tillemann was the State Department’s senior adviser for civil society and emerging democracies in 2010, which must be so important as he looks to be about 29 years old and was a political appointee, and collaborated with Clinton on more than 200 speeches, according to his State Department bio.

    The aspiring Obersturmfuhrer came to public attention after another Hillary sycophant sent an email to Clinton, suggesting she personally thank Tillemann for his work on one particular speech, which covered global Internet freedom.

    “If you have the time or the inclination, it would be really nice if you could send an email to Tomicah, or phone him. He went for almost 100 hours without sleep to get the speech done, under unusually trying circumstances,” the email read.

    Tillemann told Yahoo! that while neither he nor any other member of Clinton’s staff was ever asked to work for that long, he was inspired to do so. “I worked on a lot of speeches. I knew this one mattered,” he said. “I lost many members of my family in the Holocaust, and I felt this speech was a chance to protect key freedoms in our time. That kept me going.”

    Internet, Holocaust, sure, that’s all related. If only they’d had the Internet and Hillary back then!

    But, he admits, he had difficulty working after a while: “When things started to get fuzzy — and they did — teammates jumped in to help me across the finish line.”

    Tillemann says he doesn’t drink coffee but “by the end I was ready to ink a sponsorship with Diet Coke.” He also says he took a nap after the speech was done, adding “it was awesome.”

    MEMO to Tillemann:

    Nobody cares. Nobody remembers your silly little speech, and Hillary likely didn’t even read it in advance and just mouthed the words. It didn’t matter. And what kind of speech takes 100 continuous hours to write anyway, dork boy? Entire books are written in that time, good books, too. Admit it — you knocked out the speech in about an hour and spent the other 99 panting to Hillary’s photo, didn’t you?

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  • Happy 9/11 Day: Fourteen Years Later, An Improbable World

    September 11, 2015 // 14 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America


    I really tried this year. I wanted to write a killer blog piece on the 14th anniversary of 9/11, something that summed up all that has happened, the wars, the loss of freedoms, everything. As I live in New York, Ground Zero is a subway ride away, so I went there, hoping for inspiration.

    Instead, I found people taking selfies in front of the memorials. European tourists asking for directions to the subway, vendors selling cheesy NYC souvenirs and NYFD Never Forget T-shirts. It wasn’t somber, it was just another New York tourist attraction. Meanwhile, there were bomb-proof trash cans, and “See Something, Say Something” signs everywhere.

    I went home and knocked off most of a liter of (Russian) vodka and at some point inspiration turned to me watching Cartoon Network.

    Then I read a terrific article on the meaning of 9/11 which said everything I was hoping to say until Sponge Bob stepped in. So here, guest blogger Tom Engelhardt speaks for us all.

    Fourteen Years Later, An Improbable World

    Fourteen years later and do you even believe it? Did we actually live it? Are we still living it? And how improbable is that?

    Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach — from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet — would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.

    Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as wizardry from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.

    Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.

    Fourteen years later, the improbability of it all still staggers the imagination, starting with those vast shards of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, the real-world equivalent of the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand in the original Planet of the Apes.  With lower Manhattan still burning and the air acrid with destruction, they seemed like evidence of a culture that had undergone its own apocalyptic moment and come out the other side unrecognizably transformed.  To believe the coverage of the time, Americans had experienced Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima combined.  We were planet Earth’s ultimate victims and downtown New York was “Ground Zero,” a phrase previously reserved for places where nuclear explosions had occurred.  We were instantly the world’s greatest victim and greatest survivor, and it was taken for granted that the world’s most fulfilling sense of revenge would be ours.  9/11 came to be seen as an assault on everything innocent and good and triumphant about us, the ultimate they-hate-our-freedoms moment and, Osama, it worked. You spooked this country into 14 years of giving any dumb or horrifying act or idea or law or intrusion into our lives or curtailment of our rights a get-out-of-jail-free pass. You loosed not just your dogs of war, but ours, which was exactly what you needed to bring chaos to the Muslim world.    

    Fourteen years later, let me remind you of just how totally improbable 9/11 was and how ragingly clueless we all were on that day. George W. Bush (and cohorts) couldn’t even take it in when, on August 6, 2001, the president was given a daily intelligence briefing titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” The NSA, the CIA, and the FBI, which had many of the pieces of the bin Laden puzzle in their hands, still couldn’t imagine it. And believe me, even when it was happening, I could hardly grasp it.  I was doing exercises in my bedroom with the TV going when I first heard the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center and saw the initial shots of a smoking tower. And I remember my immediate thought: just like the B-25 that almost took out the Empire State Building back in 1945. Terrorists bringing down the World Trade Center? Please. Al-Qaeda? You must be kidding. Later, when two planes had struck in New York and another had taken out part of the Pentagon, and it was obvious that it wasn’t an accident, I had an even more ludicrous thought.  It occurred to me that the unexpected vulnerability of Americans living in a land largely protected from the chaos so much of the world experiences might open us up to the pain of others in a new way. Dream on. All it opened us up to was bringing pain to others.

    Fourteen years later, don’t you still find it improbable that George W. Bush and company used those murderous acts and the nearly 3,000 resulting deaths as an excuse to try to make the world theirs?  It took them no time at all to decide to launch a “Global War on Terror” in up to 60 countries.  It took them next to no time to begin dreaming of the establishment of a future Pax Americana in the Middle East, followed by the sort of global imperium that had previously been conjured up only by cackling bad guys in James Bond films.  Don’t you find it strange, looking back, just how quickly 9/11 set their brains aflame?  Don’t you find it curious that the Bush administration’s top officials were quite so infatuated by the U.S. military?  Doesn’t it still strike you as odd that they had such blind faith in that military’s supposedly limitless powers to do essentially anything and be “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known”? Don’t you still find it eerie that, amid the wreckage of the Pentagon, the initial orders our secretary of defense gave his aides were to come up with plans for striking Iraq, even though he was already convinced that al-Qaeda had launched the attack? (“‘Go massive,’ an aide’s notes quote him as saying. ‘Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'”)  Don’t you think “and not” sums up the era to come?  Don’t you find it curious that, in the rubble of those towers, plans not just to pay Osama bin Laden back, but to turn Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Iran — “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran” — into American protectorates were already being imagined?

    Fourteen years later, how probable was it that the country then universally considered the planet’s “sole superpower,” openly challenged only by tiny numbers of jihadist extremists, with a military better funded than the next 10 to 13 forces combined (most of whom were allies anyway), and whose technological skills were, as they say, to die for would win no wars, defeat no enemies, and successfully complete no occupations?  What were the odds?  If, on September 12, 2001, someone had given you half-reasonable odds on a U.S. military winning streak in the Greater Middle East, don’t tell me you wouldn’t have slapped some money on the table.

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century, despite having officially left one of those countries in 2011 (only to head back again in the late summer of 2014) and having endlessly announced the conclusion of its operations in the other (only to ratchet them up again)?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in parts of fractured Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself out from Libya to Nigeria to Afghanistan? If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted such a possibility, who wouldn’t have thought you mad?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. has gone into the business of robotic assassination big time; that (despite Watergate-era legal prohibitions on such acts), we are now the Terminators of Planet Earth, not its John Connors; that the president is openly and proudly an assassin-in-chief with his own global “kill list”; that we have endlessly targeted the backlands of the planet with our (Grim) Reaper and Predator (thank you Hollywood!) drones armed with Hellfire missiles; and that Washington has regularly knocked off women and children while searching for militant leaders and their generic followers?  And don’t you find it odd that all of this has been done in the name of wiping out the terrorists and their movements, despite the fact that wherever our drones strike, those movements seem to gain in strength and power?

    Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that our “war on terror” has so regularly devolved into a war of and for terror; that our methods, including the targeted killings of numerous leaders and “lieutenants” of militant groups have visibly promoted, not blunted, the spread of Islamic extremism; and that, despite this, Washington has generally not recalibrated its actions in any meaningful way?

    Fourteen years later, isn’t it possible to think of 9/11 as a mass grave into which significant aspects of American life as we knew it have been shoveled?  Of course, the changes that came, especially those reinforcing the most oppressive aspects of state power, didn’t arrive out of the blue like those hijacked planes.  Who, after all, could dismiss the size and power of the national security state and the military-industrial complex before those 19 men with box cutters arrived on the scene?  Who could deny that, packed into the Patriot Act (passed largely unread by Congress in October 2001) was a wish list of pre-9/11 law enforcement and right-wing hobbyhorses?  Who could deny that the top officials of the Bush administration and their neocon supporters had long been thinking about how to leverage “U.S. military supremacy” into a Pax Americana-style new world order or that they had been dreaming of “a new Pearl Harbor” which might speed up the process?  It was, however, only thanks to Osama bin Laden, that they — and we — were shuttled into the most improbable of all centuries, the twenty-first.

    Fourteen years later, the 9/11 attacks and the thousands of innocents killed represent international criminality and immorality of the first order.  On that, Americans are clear, but — most improbable of all — no one in Washington has yet taken the slightest responsibility for blowing a hole through the Middle East, loosing mayhem across significant swathes of the planet, or helping release the forces that would create the first true terrorist state of modern history; nor has anyone in any official capacity taken responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly a million or more people, turned many in the Greater Middle East into internal or external refugees, destroyed nations, and brought unbelievable pain to countless human beings.  In these years, no act — not of torture, nor murder, nor the illegal offshore imprisonment of innocent people, nor death delivered from the air or the ground, nor the slaughter of wedding parties, nor the killing of children — has blunted the sense among Americans that we live in an “exceptional” and “indispensable” country of staggering goodness and innocence.

    Fourteen years later, how improbable is that?

    Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

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  • How Clinton’s Handling Foreign Government Info Went Very Wrong

    September 10, 2015 // 15 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Embassy/State

    hillary clinton

    There is a frightening misunderstanding, some intentional, some not, among the media on how classified information is created and handled.

    That misunderstanding turns much of the Clinton email story into a partisan shouting match, when knowing the facts of the classification system actually clarifies what happened and what it means.

    Let’s look at the State Department’s policies on handling foreign government information, and how Clinton’s actions were at specific variance with those policies.


    The tranche of Hillary Clinton’s emails released Aug. 31 contains 150 messages containing classified information. That brings the total number to more than 200.

    Let the spin begin.

    “The Department does not know for sure if any information was classified at the time it was sent or received on the private email server Clinton used for work,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters. “It’s not an exact science. When we’ve upgraded [a document’s classification], we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent.”

    Toner’s remarks are at variance with how the classification system works.

    (Full disclosure: Following the publication — during Clinton’s time as secretary of state — of my book critical of the State Department’s role in the Iraq War, the department unsuccessfully carried out termination proceedings against me. Instead, I retired voluntarily.)

    There are specific rules establishing government-wide, uniform standards as to what should be classified. And though Clinton has said she sent no information via email that was classified at the time and received none marked that way, the “marked/unmarked” issue is codified in security law and regulation. What matters is the information itself, whether its potential release would harm the United States or assist its adversaries. Gold is gold, whether it is labeled or not.

    In addition, if any of Clinton’s messages contained information that originated outside of the State Department, say something sourced from the CIA, then it is the originating agency alone which determines the classification of a document, not end users such as Clinton in 2010, or the State Department in 2015.

    Lastly, since there is clearly information in some 200 Clinton messages that cannot be in an unclassified setting now, then it is obvious it should not have been in an unclassified setting then.

    Of particular concern is that more than half of the now-classified Clinton emails consist of a special category: information shared in confidence by foreign government officials. The Department’s own regulations say this information must be safeguarded, and even require specialized markings in addition to the standard classification indicators such as “Confidential.”

    It makes sense; if a foreign leader shares something, only to learn the information was available to a hostile intelligence agency on an insecure email server, she or he is unlikely to trust the United States with information in the future. In such instances, it is the source of the information (for example, direct from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair) that is perhaps more sensitive than the information itself. Imagine the difference between “an anonymous official” calling the Afghan president untrustworthy, and Blair himself exposed as saying the same.

    Asked whether Clinton followed the regulations on proper handling of foreign government information, the State Department spokesperson said, “I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function.”

    That is inaccurate. The State Department maintains a significant infrastructure in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that does nothing else but monitor employees’ handling of foreign government and other classified or sensitive information. It is indeed a function of the agency.

    The issue of foreign government information handling is of critical importance to the State Department, given its mandate to carry out the foreign relations of the United States; so much so that the Department argued it to help convict Chelsea Manning after she transferred a large number of State Department cables to Wikileaks. State claimed the action significantly affected foreign governments’ confidence in exchanging information with the United States.

    Manning’s leak of government files, not all classified, had a chilling effect, impeding American diplomats’ ability to gather information, a senior State Department official testified. The unauthorized releases made foreign diplomats and business leaders “reticent to provide their full and frank opinions and share them with us,” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified in 2013. “It’s impossible to know what someone is not sharing with you – and this is, in itself, I believe, a risk to the national security.”

    With some irony, at the exact time the Manning cables appeared on the Internet, Clinton was committing a similar act. Statute 18 USC 1924, “Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Documents or Material,” sets the standard as moving classified information to an unauthorized location (a private email server) and does not require the information to actually make it into the wild (Wikileaks) for a violation to occur. It’s also the same statute, inter alia, under which David Petraeus was prosecuted.

    The complexity of the classification issues regarding Clinton’s private email server are, in fact, why the decision to use one at all, in lieu of established official channels, remains an issue worthy of our attention, beyond the one of up-or-down criminality.


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  • British Library Won’t Hold Taliban Documents for Researchers Due to Anti-Terror Laws

    September 9, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan


    It was either Sun Tzu, or Clausewitz, or maybe General Tso who said: “Know Thy Enemy.”

    The advice is valid. Most military schools teach their students to read the enemy’s manifestos, study his propaganda, learn as much about him as possible to better know how to defeat him. During World War II, British soldiers and scholars studied Hitler’s Mein Kampf and other Nazi documents. Martial needs aside, a basic principle of scholars is open access to information, and for libraries, to collect primary source documents while they are still available.

    Yet fear now controls us, not thought.

    The British Library

    A decision by the British Library not to host a huge collection of Taliban-related documents, despite years of close involvement with the project, has added to concerns about Britain’s sweeping anti-terrorism legislation.


    Over nearly a decade, the researchers behind the Taliban Sources Project have painstakingly collected and translated into English more than a thousand newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, military and administrative documents, as well as handwritten poetry by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The group’s aim is to digitize the primary material, shedding light on the Taliban’s organization and the insurgency in Afghanistan. Altogether, the project’s ten-member team translated more than two million words of material.

    The researchers took the project to the British Library (and for those not familiar with that institution, consider it in lay terms on par with the Library of Congress in the United States) in 2012. After first accepting the collection three years ago, the library has now declined to take on the project, saying it had been legally advised it contains material that could be in breach of Britain’s anti-terrorism laws.

    The library recognizes the archive’s research value. But “it was judged that it contained some material which could contravene the Terrorism Act,” it said in a <a href="http://statement“>statement, “which would present restrictions on the library’s ability to provide access to the archive for researchers.”

    The UK Terrorism Act “places specific responsibilities on anyone in Britain who might provide access to terrorist publications,” the statement added, “and the legal advice received jointly by the British Library and other similar institutions advises against making this type of material accessible.”

    Knowing the Taliban

    The Taliban Sources Project focuses on material from 1994 to 2001 that “gives a unique window into the Taliban’s world views, their negotiations with foreign governments, how they viewed history,” said Felix Kuehn, an organizer of the project, adding that the material could help provide a more complete picture about the organization in the run-up to the 2001 American invasion of Afghanistan.

    “Our knowledge of the Taliban in the 1990s is dominated by Western media coverage that was highly politicized, in part because information was not easily accessible,” Kuehn said.

    David Anderson, the independent reviewer for Britain’s anti-terrorism laws, said the Terrorism Act was a broad law that could be even more broadly interpreted “by police and lawyers who want to give cautious advice.” Such interpretations could easily impinge on academic freedom, he warned. “If this law were interpreted to prevent researchers from accessing Taliban-related material that would impact their academic work, it would be very regrettable,” he said. “That’s not how academics work.”

    Knowing the Enemy

    The Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006 make it an offense “to collect material which could be used by a person committing or preparing for an act of terrorism” and criminalize the circulation of terrorist propaganda. But under the laws, the police must show evidence that the owners intend to use the publication for terrorist purposes, and that they have a reasonable excuse to possess it, Anderson said.

    Know thy enemy? What happens when the enemy is us?

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  • U.S. Hunter Who Killed Cecil the Lion Back to Work

    September 8, 2015 // 15 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas


    …And America!

    We forget too quickly, and flirt from issue to issue. If you think that as it applies to the lion also has parallels to the Syrian refugee boy, yep, that’s what I’m doing here.

    Remember back, oh, all of about six weeks ago? We as a nation recoiled in horror at the image of Cecil the Lion, killed by an American dentist, washing ashore next to that Syrian refugee boy on the beach, sparking a global outrage.

    There would be an extradition, so the dentist (what the hell was his name? Cecil?) would face justice. People blew up Yelp! with really clever comments about taking their dental business elsewhere and bankrupting the dentist in a kind of people’s revenge. People blew up Twitter with really clever comments like “Feed the dentist to the lions!” and the U.S. government was going to investigate so many bad things. We were gonna put a stop to the global trade in trophy animals, dammit.

    Anyway, we got distracted by some other thing, forgot what, and now the dentists said he’d just be back at work within days, appointments already scheduled.

    Walter Palmer (oh, right that was his name, get him confused with the Breaking Bad guy, man, that was a great show, I’m binge watching it this weekend, oh wait, the blog post, sorry), who has spent more than a month out of sight after becoming the target of protests and threats, intends to return to his suburban Minneapolis dental practice Tuesday. In an evening interview that advisers said would be the only one granted, Palmer said again that he believes he acted legally and that he was stunned to find out his hunting party had killed one of Zimbabwe’s treasured animals.

    Palmer shut off several lines of inquiry about the hunt, including how much he paid for it or others he has undertaken. No videotaping or photographing of the interview was allowed. During the 25-minute interview, Palmer gazed intensely at his questioners, often fiddling with his hands and turning occasionally to an adviser, Joe Friedberg, to field questions about the fallout and his legal situation.

    Some high-level Zimbabwean officials had called for Palmer’s extradition, but no formal steps toward getting the dentist to return to Zimbabwe have been taken. Friedberg, a Minneapolis attorney who said he is acting as an unpaid consultant to Palmer, said he has heard nothing from authorities about domestic or international investigations.

    Friedberg said he offered to have Palmer take questions from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorities on the condition the session be recorded. He said he never heard back.

    In addition to the Cecil furor, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside of the authorized hunting zone. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000 as part of a plea agreement.

    We suck.

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  • Clinton Says She Was ‘Not Thinking’ (When She Set Up Email Server)

    September 7, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: 2016, Embassy/State


    Let’s play a game, shall we? I’ll write down some things Hillary said and did, and you mark which ones are the kinds of things that suggest “presidential.”

    You know, the stuff you need from a world leader when the sh*it hits the fan at 3am and crucial decisions need to be made. Short-decision time frames, long-term consequences kinda stuff.

    For added fun, I’ll restrict myself to only Hillary’s latest remarks on her server.

    Here’s the money shot up front: Hillary said “You know, I was not thinking a lot when I got in. There was so much work to be done. We had so many problems around the world,” Clinton said. “I didn’t really stop and think what kind of email system will there be?”

    — “I was not thinking a lot when I got in.” How’s that for a president’s explanation for, well, anything? Generally speaking, you want yer president to be thinkin’ all the time.

    — Hillary, as Secretary of State, just did not want to pause from resolving all the world’s problems to consider what email system to use. So, instead of having Huma get her a password via one phone call (maybe there already was one on a yellow sticky under the keyboard) to use the existing State Department system already installed in her office and maintained by an existing staff, it seemed somehow better to create and use a fully independent system that she set up and paid for separately. Is such prioritizing, followed by such justifying, presidential?

    Dissenting opinion: Great leaders sweat the details. Image this conversation with Hillary on Day One: “Look people, we have a lot of work ahead. You, make plans to bomb Libya. You, get me Putin on the hot line. I’ll get personally right on downloading the latest Outlook patches. There’s a new Javascript vulnerability I’m focused on.”

    — “They may disagree, as I now disagree, with the choice that I made. But the facts that I have put forth have remained the same.” Except those “facts” keep changing and growing. Week by week there are new facts to be discussed. That drip drip drip of confidence lost in one’s leader (check the damn polls, people), how presidential is that?

    — Clinton seems to have a pattern of hiring people into public, taxpayer-paid roles (see Bryan Pagliano, her server guy, and Huma, her body man, to begin) while at the same time paying them as her private staff. Conflict of interest much? Public good versus personal employer good? Is that kind of thinking presidential?

    Basically, the Clinton campaign now has left exactly three “positive” themes to promote:

    Vote for me because I am non-male (better hope Elizabeth Warren stays out of the race);

    Vote for me or you’ll end up with one of those Republicans (better hope Sanders quits and Biden stays out of the race);

    Vote for me because as of today nothing indictable has come up (better hope the FBI works really slowly).

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  • Hillary’s Server Arrested (Satire)

    September 4, 2015 // 20 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Post-Constitution America


    In shocking news, Hillary Clinton’s server was arrested and is now in an FBI detention facility in an undisclosed location.

    After initial confusion that the “server” was the State Department political appointee moonlighting as Clinton’s sysadm, and later false reports that the “server” was actually a Mexican “intern” named Raoul hired by the former Secretary of State to paint her toenails and fetch her cool drinks at the tinkle of a small sterling silver bell, sources at the Justice Department clarified that the arrest was for the actual hardware itself.

    “I can confirm,” said a Department of Justice spokesperson, “that today at 4 am agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation slapped the cuffs on a beige 1998 Gateway 486 computer box, running a Chinese bootleg copy of Windows 95. The hardware was arrested alongside a 2400 baud modem. The modem and 512k of the computer’s 640k worth of memory are fully cooperating with law enforcement to help us prosecute the PC itself. We are charging the PC with numerous violations of national security laws focused on wanton disregard for the protection of classified information and making repeated false statements to the public in an attempt to cover up those violations.”

    The very unusual development — arresting and charging an inanimate object instead of a person — came about only after Justice officials realized Hillary Clinton could never be arrested or prosecuted for any crime whatsoever due to her status as the Chosen One.

    “Look,” said one source now in the Witness Protection Program, “Hillary could murder another person on live TV, claim she was the victim of partisan politics and a smear campaign, and walk away. Look at the trail of bodies already behind her if you don’t believe me. Under those circumstances, you think we’re gonna get away popping her for some boring old emails about drone strikes? Jeez, the American people have been ignoring drone strikes and foreign affairs for a decade anyway.”

    “At the same time,” the official continued, “what was done here was so egregious, illegal and detrimental to the security of the United States that we felt we sorta had to do something. Especially after we hung Petraeus out to dry over much less. We first considered a really snarky Facebook post, and then The House of Clinton offered us up our choice of several staffers to arrest, but even we felt that was unfair. So, we arrested the computer itself.”

    Clinton herself had no comment other than to tell the inquiring reporter to “your family will be dead by nightfall.”

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  • Clinton Email Markings Changed to Block Documents’ Release

    September 3, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Post-Constitution America

    State Department building

    We’re going to get a little deeper into the way classified material and its disclosure is handled here, but stick with the details. They show the cleverness of Clinton’s people in manipulating existing processes to mask classified material contained in her emails.

    FOIA in Theory

    In theory, all U.S. government documents, including Clinton’s emails, are subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A classified document can still be, in theory, declassified and released, perhaps after enough time has passed that the information is no longer sensitive, as in the case, for example, of WWII messages about planned invasions and the like.

    FOIA Exemptions

    However, the FOIA provides for nine specific exemptions, conditions under which information can be withheld, classified or not. The full list is here, but we’ll focus on just two in the context of the Clinton emails: B1 and B5.

    B1 is simple: the document contains properly classified material and cannot be released until the material is declassified, if ever. A no-brainer example would be a list of undercover CIA agents. That is never going to see daylight.

    B5 refers to deliberative process, the details of how the government makes policy, the back-and-forth principals receive, the “how” of how decisions are made. Such information does not necessarily have to even be classified, and marking it as B5 does not in any way imply it is classified.

    The theory behind the existence of B5 is that advisors need to be able to share advice fully and frankly, throwing out at times odd ideas, playing devil’s advocate, and the policy maker free to engage in a full discussion of options, without concern that all that messy process will become public. Some in government also feel exposing the processes by which decisions are made assists America’s adversaries.

    B5 is near-constantly misused by government to block information that should be released, but we’ll stick with theory for the time being.

    Changes in Clinton Email Exemption Categories

    Reports suggest at least four Clinton emails had their exemption markings changed to a category that shields the content from the public, in what some believe is an effort to hide the true extent of classified information on the former secretary of state’s server.

    The emails in question were originally redacted under exemption B1, meaning the information in them was withheld because that information was properly classified. The impact of that on Clinton was two-fold: it confirmed that the emails held classified contrary to her claims, and it set up release of the information simply by someone with the authority to declassify it.

    Changing the exemption to B5, which was done by State Department lawyers (more below), removed the stigma of classified material in unclassified emails. Perhaps more importantly, it placed the authority of release on State itself. The Courts have long upheld the right of agencies to withhold B5 exempted information indefinitely, meaning State could deep-six the information in those emails forever.

    See what they did there?

    The Process

    The process by which the Clinton emails were remarked, if true, speaks to additional naughty acts, centered again around State’s primary political troubleshooter, Patrick Kennedy.

    According to congressional testimony, at least one of the lawyers in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, where the changes were made, is Catherine Duval, who also handles the release of documents to the Benghazi Select Committee. She previously was the attorney in charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s email production to Congress. And small world; Duval once worked for the same firm as Clinton’s private attorney, David Kendall.

    Anyone see any pattern here?

    Fox News was told there were internal State Department complaints that Duval’s work, and that of a second lawyer also linked to Kendall, created a conflict of interest during the email review.

    The disagreement between some State employees and Duval over the changed exemption markings grew so heated that a final decision had to be kicked upstairs.

    Pat Kennedy, Again

    Now wait for it — that decision made upstairs, in favor of Clinton, the B5 exemption, was made by Undersecretary of Management Pat Kennedy, State’s own pointman briefing Congress on State’s proper handling of the entire Clinton email affair. Kennedy is also very likely the most senior State official under the secretary to have approved her use of a private email server.

    Judicial Watch is now seeking a deposition of Kennedy in a case scrutinizing Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s status as a special government employee. “All these issues fall under his responsibility,” Judicial Watch said.

    Asked to respond to the allegations, a State Department official added that the lawyers do not have the final say on the codes, emphasizing it is a “multi-step review.”

    Indeed, a multi-step review, albeit one that ends with Pat Kennedy.

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  • The Consequences of a Newly-Militarized Japan

    September 2, 2015 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Hooper's War, Military


    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing through legislation to give his country’s military the power to strike offensively for the first time since the war.

    It is hard to understate the potential impact of this development.

    The What

    Domestically, Abe is putting his own job on the line. Voters oppose the new legislation roughly two to one, opposition parties walked out of the vote in protest and the government’s support ratings fell to around 40 percent. The lower house of parliament’s decision to approve the legislation set off the largest demonstrations in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear accident; a crowd of 100,000 people gathered with signs reading “Abe, Quit.”

    Abe took this action knowing that 55 years ago similar protests forced his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, out of the prime minister’s job after he rammed a revised U.S.-Japan security pact, seen as too militaristic, through parliament.

    Abe’s move is also darkly symbolic both in and outside Japan.

    Most Japanese remain proud of Article 9 in their postwar constitution, through which they became the only nation in modern times to renounce the use of offensive force. Abe’s walking his country away from this achievement represents the end of the last great ideal to emerge from World War Two, and an almost contemptuous disregard for his citizens’ view of themselves.

    In addition, as China contests islands in the seas south of Japan, North Korea rattles its nuclear saber and Japan’s Southeast Asian neighbors remember their own World War Two experiences, the new legislation throws additional fuel onto the coals of East Asian tensions. China’s foreign ministry said the move called into question Japan’s postwar commitment to “the path of peaceful development” and urged Abe to learn the lessons of history.

    Chief among the practical concerns in Japan is that Abe’s legislative end-run around the constitution will block case-by-case debate on the use of the nation’s military.

    For example, Japan’s only post-World War Two deployment of troops abroad, a single battalion to Iraq in 2004 in support of U.S. reconstruction efforts, met intense scrutiny to the point where the government published images of the small arms the soldiers carried, which were to be used only for self-protection, to assure the public of its non-martial intent. A separate, one-time-only law, passed in the wake of 9/11 to allow Japan to refuel American ships in the Indian Ocean, restricted Japanese vessels to “areas where no combat is taking place.”

    The new legislation does not immediately become law. The measure moves to the upper house, where no vote is expected to be taken. After 60 days, the measure will automatically return to the lower chamber, where Abe’s coalition holds a comfortable majority. In theory, the decision could then be challenged in the supreme court as being in violation of Article 9, though the court historically rules in favor of the government.

    The Why

    That addresses the “what.” The “why” remains much harder to discern.

    Abe says the legislation is in response to threats facing Japan, including from China. He also cites the murder of two Japanese hostages by Islamic State, suggesting his military could have rescued them. While these views play well to the ultranationalists who help fund the prime minister’s party, Abe’s critics see them as blather; American security guarantees protect Japan without a (Japanese, at least) thumb in the eye of its neighbors. And even if Japan had the special-forces capability to pull off a hostage rescue, such an action seems well within the intent of Article 9.

    Abe also says that the new legislation would allow Japan to help defend the United States, something his critics feel could lead to entanglements in U.S. aggression against China, or even in the Middle East. Abe’s own arguments about defending Japan aside, one real factor is the United States pushing the leader into a more aggressive stance under the banner of “collective defense.”

    However, the real “why” likely rests deep inside Abe. He has long held a hyper-conservative view of World War Two. He stated, for example, that Japanese leaders charged with war crimes were “not war criminals under the laws of Japan.” American occupiers arrested Abe’s grandfather, Kishi, as a war criminal for his role in the war. Some say Kishi, who helped raise Abe, pressed into his grandson his own dream of remaking Japan as a military power and throwing off the postwar constitution.

    Abe is a politician who found himself powerful enough to act on his own ideas, apart from what many feel are his nation’s legitimate security needs. Abe is apparently willing to pick a fight, risk his job and anger his country, all in service to his own ideology.

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  • Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Won’t Apologize

    September 1, 2015 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Hooper's War

    abe flag

    As part of the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in the Pacific, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke in a nationally-televised event about the deep remorse his nation felt over the events of the war.

    While many in Japan seem satisfied that Abe appropriately helped put the past in its place, most outside Japan expressed disappointment in his well-chosen words.

    Did Abe accidentally miss the mark in his speech, or did he purposefully hit his target dead on?

    Abe’s speech emphasized remorse. “I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences.” He acknowledged Japan had inflicted “immeasurable damage and suffering” when it “took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war.”

    But in the same text, Abe also said “we must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize,” emphasizing that 80% of Japan’s population was born after 1945. He blamed the western colonial powers for entering Asia in the 19th century, and mentioned Japan’s civilian casualties in the specific — Hiroshima, Tokyo, Okinawa — without touching on events such as the infamous Nanjing Massacre, which took 300,000 Chinese lives, the importation of Koreans into Japan for forced labor and the sexual enslavement of 200,000 so-called “comfort women” throughout Asia.

    Criticism of Abe’s speech from abroad was sharp. China’s Xinhua news agency said the speech was insincere, and his “adulterated apology is far from being enough for Japan’s neighbors and the broader international community to lower their guard.” Abe, Xinhua said, sought to “close the page of history.” In South Korea, which calls August 15, the day of Japan agreed to surrender to the U.S., Liberation Day, President Park Geun-hye said Abe’s statement “left much to be desired.”

    The duality of Abe’s words was not by any accident, and he took great pains to ensure any explanations or condolences would not be confused for an apology. Why?

    Whenever a senior Japanese leader speaks of the war, he must parse out where he will create offense, because in the pattern that has evolved in East Asia, no Japanese leader can satisfy both his domestic and international audiences. He must decide where to spend his points.

    Abe’s choice fell solidly on the domestic side, not unexpected given his drive to remilitarize Japan. The word “apology” in the context of the war is seen by conservatives in Japan, which include many of the wealthy donors who support Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party party, as near-profanity. The same for specific mentions of events such as Nanjing or Japan’s system of sexual slavery; many in the far right-wing in Tokyo still deny those events took place. Abe referring to Japan’s own losses as he mentioned Japan’s victims, was a sop to his supporters and, by Asian sensibilities, a slap in the face to those who died under Japan’s hand.

    Some in Japan will respond by asking how many times must they apologize for events that most young people in Japan barely know about. The answer lies in comparing Japan’s post-war actions to Germany’s.

    Japanese textbooks still gloss over the war. Japan has a poor record of providing compensation to the sex slaves and care to the Korean victims of the atomic bombs.

    Abe appointed unapologetic revisionists to high-profile posts, and has made visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted of war crimes are enshrined along with millions of fallen soldiers and sailors. The Shrine also hosts a museum of World War II artifacts, including a locomotive from occupied Manchuria seen as an endorsement of Japanese colonial ambitions. Though with no connection to Abe, many in Asia are also acutely aware that World War II Emperor Hirohito’s son sits on the throne in Japan.

    Unlike in Germany, what happened was never kneaded into Japan’s national consciousness, something that underlies Abe’s recent speech, and actions as Prime Minister.

    Understanding Abe’s speech, and Japan’s actions, through Chinese or Korean eyes can be difficult. But imagine a German government beholden to Holocaust deniers, one that deletes its Nazi legacy from textbooks, one that never apologized and compensated its victims, and one where the Prime Minister made a yearly pilgrimage to a site holy to the National Socialists, perhaps with an attached museum featuring rail cars from Dachau. All with Hitler’s son as the symbolic head of state.

    So when a Japanese Prime Minister stands to speak of the Pacific War, he speaks in a type of code, including certain words he knows will please his domestic audience, and knowingly leaving out many others whose omissions offend and inflame much of his international listeners. Shinzo Abe choose his words with great care, and hit his target this time dead solid perfect.

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